From the beginning, The Salvation Army has grasped the need to combine service and evangelism. Our founder William Booth once asked, "What is the use of preaching the gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?"
For such people, words alone do not suffice. But how do we faithfully combine the mandates to evangelize and serve? I believe that evangelism through service should always have at least three elements:
First, it should be intentional. As the church becomes more socially conscious, we must create opportunities for believers to serve others. We cannot simply assume any "random act of kindness" will result in meaningful ministry. But when we approach every effort with a spirit of expectation, believing that we are partnering with God to both change circumstances and transform lives, amazing things happen.
Being intentional begins with simple prayers for God to show us opportunities where we can go deeper by investing more of ourselves in the lives of those who once were nameless, faceless strangers.
Second, it should be appropriate. If evangelism through service reflects the grace, sacrifice and unconditional love of Christ, then our methods must be suitable to the setting and the recipients' needs.
Once we identify the immediate needs of those we serve, careful attention to their physical needs is important if we want to offer effective service. However, once this is underway, we can't ignore their spiritual needs, even if the setting doesn't allow for traditional means of evangelism.
Being appropriate may drive us to a new level of creative thinking where outdated outreach techniques are changed into more effective models of engagement. Change is never easy, but it is essential to reach those who have been inoculated to the gospel by more traditional methods of outreach.
Third, it should be relevant. The hurting world just outside our church doors might accept our help but may resist our message because skepticism, hurt, or pride has built barriers. Therefore, just as our service is directed toward specific needs, our message and purpose ought to be relevant.
J.I. Packer warned that, "Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms."
Relevant evangelism doesn't mean compromising our values or marketing our message. It means that we find a way to clearly communicate the Good News through applicable words, compassionate actions, Christ-like attitudes, and persistent creativity. It also requires us to get our hands dirty and have our hearts broken. We need to be open to having our schedules divinely interrupted.
—Lt. Colonel Ralph Bukiewicz Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army, Metropolitan Division, Chicago, Illinois
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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